The designers of the human genome: what is Crispr/Cas and how soon scientists will start to change the DNA of children yet unborn

Imagine the near future. You wander around the market (virtual, of course) and consider ads like “Superblaster against cancer. Quickly, efficiently, inexpensively.” Or “Sign up for the study and will receive immunity to HIV as a gift.” Or “do you Want your children to be healthy? Please feel free to contact us.” And in the darkest corners there is something like a “Superpower? It’s real. The governmental technology of super soldiers — for everyone” and “I Want to be like Wolverine? Go to this website”. I think this is a joke or fiction? Go to the mobile app store, which twenty years ago was a joke. Welcome to the world of genetic tailors — a world where height, weight and eye color it is programmable. A world that should fix all evolutionary and man-made errors in the DNA and, of course, generate many new. The world, which became available thanks to Crispr/Cas.


Take for granted: sexual reproduction is a technique to protect the population from pathogens and microorganisms. Two sets of DNA are mixed, and the offspring becomes more stable. But what to do with ourselves unicellular?

In 1987 in the genome of Escherichia coli (E. coli) found the site, consisting of multiple repeats. It was called Crispr locus. The word Crispr — an acronym that stands for clustered regularly interspaced short terminating in short palindromic repeats (clustered short palindromic repeats, “krisper”). The same repeats are found in other bacteria and archaea. In 2002 were opened Cas (“CAS” — “krisper-associated proteins”). In 2006, it became clear that these loci have a viral nature, the discovery made it possible to assume that Crispr/Cas is a “antivirus engine”. In 2008 researchers learned about the role of “krisper-RNA”, which manages “CAS protein”. After that fragmented, it would seem that the picture developed in the crystal-clear whole.

When archaea or bacteria encounters a new virus, “CAS protein” cut his DNA, insert “any” pieces (they are called “spacers”) in “krisper-cassette”, it increased “krisper-RNA” (as a pointer). It is a kind of genetic tailor, if you use a loose analogy, where “krisper-cassette” a library of patterns with errors, “krisper-RNA” — hand and “CAS-proteins” — scissors, cut a piece a “wrong code” like the master designer, to eliminate the crease on the sleeve.

In 2015, scientists have learned how to apply this “genetic tailor” on human embryos. With people it works like this (one way, most likely in the future there will be new): we create circular DNA molecules called “plasmids”. They recorded cas9 gene (scissors) and the modified RNA (the guiding hand), which shows where you have to “cut”. Plasmids are inserted into a cell with a defective gene, there is formed a complex “krisper” and cuts off the broken piece. Further possible options. For example, the body itself restores the gene is healthy. Or put the same “patch” of healthy piece of DNA (you can take it from another person). And you can put another “patch” — for example, cutting off the sequence responsible for the development of the brown color of the eye and replacing it with “genome goluboglazaja”.


“Krisper” enables a wide range of studies. For example, to study the role of genes and their rearrangements in the onset and progression of genetic diseases. But it’s pure science, we are interested in practical application. And it already is. Created “krisper-system” to improve the properties of agricultural plants (rice, wheat, corn, sorghum and so on). Moreover, not only changes the resistance to pests and chemicals, but and taste. Pigs investigated from the standpoint of organ transplantation to man. Seriously considered the option of “drift” in the population of malaria mosquito resistance gene to the pathogen-Plasmodium.

And “krisper” potentially allows to treat many diseases. This is the correction of defective genes that cause actually genetic abnormalities. The research, conducted on cell cultures and animals show that the technology has the potential to fight sickle anemia, cystic fibrosis, cataracts, and so on. A huge part of the experiments devoted to the fight against chronic hepatitis and HIV. Many laboratories working on a cure for various dystrophies, and diseases of the hematopoietic system (lymphoma, leukemia, leukemias). Trying to treat down syndrome. Unfortunately, a fully cured patients one can not but developed a variety of different therapies that are already working and will soon give results.

But the fierce debate is underway around the creation of “designer children” — because “krisper” helps to remove all genetic flaws in the embryo and, more surprisingly, to add something (for example, the appearance of your favorite actor). The main thing is to program “the tailor.” This raises ethical problems: in most developed countries such intervention, “divine Providence” is prohibited.

Research on embryos is seriously performed by scientists from four countries: the UK (for the purposes of science it is permitted), the USA (not prohibited by the experiments, but there is a Federal ban on financing such research), Israel (is there more focus on the treatment of genetic diseases, but there are several startups with Israeli roots in other countries, e.g. in Switzerland) and China. And it is the Chinese due to government funding lead: leadership, adept in palaeogenetic experiments and disregard for human rights (according to the West), saw in the new technologies for the future.

And while you’re thinking about how moral and ethical human experimentation, here are a couple of facts. “Krisper” can heal (because we know the genes responsible for this disease) progeria (premature aging), hypertrichosis (excessive hair growth), severe combined immunodeficiency (patient has to live in a sterile capsule), from ectrodactyly (improper growth of fingers) and other rare diseases.

That’s not counting the mass of cancer and diseases described above. What about supernatural abilities? It is possible to eliminate the risk of heart disease, become resistant to cold and low oxygen content, to acquire immunity to diseases of the brain, learning to see clearly under water, make the bones stronger and without harm to the body to sleep less than six hours. And this is just part of the “superpowers” that are already present (albeit rare) in the human population.


Futurist, Director of Ukrainian-Israeli Institute for strategic studies named after Golda Meir — about how genetics learn how to cure incurable diseases, about the rescue of dogs from defective DNA, and of a future that can’t stop anyone

— Albert Aleksandrovich, how are things going with research in the field of “krisper” in Israel?

Now being a powerful research associated with the genetic modification of non-human genome: for breeding, production plants. As for the human genome, there is a serious debate whether this implementation in the Providence of God.

There are two things: first, a lot of research is classified to avoid problems with the bans because the religious lobby. However, the religious philosophy of Judaism says that to save lives you can use any means. That is to use the “krisper” for the treatment of incurable diseases is permissible. Today there are about 15-17 of diseases that are trying to cope with this method, those that have a strong genetic nature. For example, characteristic of some Jewish communities the Kuna syndrome (severe congenital enlargement of the trachea and large bronchi). Furthermore, down syndrome, diseases of the hematopoietic system. Cured patients yet, but the therapy has already begun. This includes experiments on the therapy of HIV. They are deeply moved, but closed — to the moment of their success.

— You mentioned the “inhuman gene”…

— Know which population is the most genetically flawed? It’s a dog. We modified their selection methods, and the more breeding, the more genetic problems. Shepherds do not suffer from this practical, they are quite healthy, but kind of dogs, from Yorkies and pugs to FILA Brasileiro, Bordeaux Mastiff, get a full set of damaged genes. Accordingly, the first “designer of multicellular organisms” will be dogs — I think later this or next year we will see a correction of some breeds with congenital diseases. And there are fewer ethical problems, their sufferings because of the selection modifications probably allow us to use genetic modification to get rid of it.

— It remains only to decide ethical issues with people?

We now use the elements of eugenics, no matter how fought it. In the Western world common technology screening (tests that detect abnormalities in the embryo at an early stage), it is used to 97-98%. In developing countries is 35-40%. Screening detects disease at an early stage and congenital disease can be localized, having an abortion, when the embryo is just beginning to emerge, saving the family from the giant tragedies. Now we have “krisper”, which allows to eliminate these of pathology at the genetic level. In the near future, parents will choose. They have three ways, as on the stone of Ilya Muromets: to leave the child as he is, understanding the responsibility; to have an abortion, and he still can lead to infertility; or to produce a design of a fetus with “krisper”.

— Or add the child any quality.

— Here begins the ethical issues. If the money can be programmed appearance, the world will be filled with copies of popular artists movie. This is not good. But this movement of humanity, it still happens. Someone will start using biological scissors. Dozens of countries can do it. The U.S. has long banned in vitro fertilization (IVF), and what happened? They just fell behind in this direction. Parents from the States went to Britain or Mexico and there was ECO. So you need to create rules that will make most geneticists — or genotypical. In General, it leads humanity to health, reduction of incurable diseases, from HIV to cancer, blood diseases, and dystrophies. This is undoubtedly a positive.

— Rosy picture is.

— I can compare the development of “krisper”, developed a concept of a healthy lifestyle. Compare the population of a large city in 1917 and in 2017 and see how the population of 2017 became healthier, stronger, and higher. These are elements of secondary eugenics: in another way began to eat, more exercise, changed my attitude to health. It’s a behavioral level that is supported by magazines, Newspapers, TV. Media support not sick and fat and healthy and beautiful. And here we are talking about Bionova. And it is also a rehabilitation of society. Who can stop it?

Come bad habits. For example, I have removed the gene responsible for the development of cancer due to Smoking…

— Yeah, so what? Going back to the habit, but they will cease to be harmful. More and more people will begin to live happily. Humanity is moving toward indulgence, Epicureanism. That’s why we invent robots. The engine of civilization is laziness. And if people get muscle through genetic changes and he will not have to spend two hours in the gym, he’ll do it and spend time on something else.

On the nose, space exploration, and there is solar radiation, weak gravity, the lack of calcium. Will the “krisper” here?

— Theoretically — Yes. The scientific problem is globally solved, it remains to deal with ethics. I think humanity is approaching a genetic modification is behavioral, used to be workout, now — “krisper”.

— And mind?

— Including the mind. And this is useful because the level of intelligence of humanity as a whole is falling. We solve less difficult tasks become less complex behavioral reactions, less subtle motorik. And all this reduces the intellect. We do not yet know what elements of the genome are responsible for IQ, but we know. We know which areas are responsible for the blood, for healthy liver, for the size of the hands, shoulders, nose, eye color and so on. But what is responsible for the intellect and soul yet we don’t know. This is a divine Providence, after all. Yet.

— What are the threats?

— Errors may occur, which will lead to even more problematic pathology. We climb to the thinnest tool with a huge screwdriver or an axe. Theoretically genetics know how to act. But I could be wrong. It’s like with genetically modified organisms, we’ve been through a lot of mistakes. For example, modified soy harms the body, which led to the banning of GMOs. And on the other hand, it can make the genetic leap and becomes a permanent weed. But it’s the mistakes that we pay for progress, the same price we paid when I was doing technique — inverted tankers burned airships, disasters at nuclear power plants.

— Incidentally, the same panic was with stem cells.

And no wonder: experiments with stem cells is not always positive. A huge number of cancer 2000 years was due to the rough and untested use of stem cells, which caused a dramatic rejuvenation and metastasis. Cancer has become very fast, it is for months developed of 1st-2nd stage in the 4th.

— We talked about the embryonic design, and is it possible to use “krisper”.

— Yes, at the level of the disease. It concerns HIV, leukemia, diseases of the blood, many of the dystrophies, multiple sclerosis. In the future, the emergence of modified human, altered at the age of 20-30 years is theoretically possible. There is behavioral modification, when training the person acquires strength, skills, and becomes in some way superhuman. Such units, because you need perseverance and talent. If they revealed the points of localization of these qualities, they can be genetically modified.

Technology “krisper” is very simple. It’s not the hadron Collider, not an electron microscope is a simple and easily transferable technology. It does not require follow-up care, therapy. Why, for example, organ transplants has not spread to certain areas? Because there is a level of medical infrastructure is not allowed. But here the infrastructure is not needed, everything happens at the cellular level, the moment of healing takes place in a comfortable state of motion, not some kind of resuscitation, as in organ transplants. Therefore, the spread will be more. Coming soon membrane methods of implementation “krisper”, will not need to spend even a microscopic surgery are pills, patches. Here are conducted maximum study.

— There may be mutants…

Any progress changes a person. We are very far removed from our ancestors-the CRO-magnons. When they began to use fire, we have changed and then only continue to change.

— Wouldn’t design people to ensure that it will no longer be born Beethoven?

Maybe. And maybe Vice versa. But Beethoven has long been not born.

— What are the price limits of the technology who can use it?

— While it’s free because it’s experimental. It’s like with IVF. First free, then it will cost huge money, then when many learn, the price will fall and aligned.

— That will go through “krisper”?

— First of all disappear selection. If earlier it was necessary to think, to connect two sheep, to take healthy offspring, now it is all can do genetic design.